Nigerian Govt seeks to punish ECOWAS diplomat who escaped Ebola surveillance

Onyebuchi Chukwu, Nigeria's health minister.

The Nigerian government says it is considering prosecuting a diplomat who sneaked out of an Ebola isolation centre in Lagos, and travelled to Port Harcourt for a private medical attention that claimed the life of the doctor, and now endangers hundreds more.

The diplomat, Olubukun Koye, a staff of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, recovered after the treatment.

But the doctor who treated him, Ikechukwu Enemuo contracted the virus and died; and the Mr. Enemuo’s wife, also a doctor, is currently down with the deadly virus.

On Thursday, a senior health official was quoted by Reuters as saying Nigeria is currently monitoring nearly 400 people for signs of Ebola after they came in contact with Mr. Enemuo.

Dr. Abdulsalami Nasidi, project director at Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, said there was a sense of “hopelessness” due to the lack of proven drugs or vaccines to treat Ebola that has infected 18 people in Africa’s most populous nation, Reuters reported.

The ECOWAS diplomat, Mr. Koye, was one of the primary contacts of the index Ebola case in Nigeria—the Liberian-American man, Patrick Sawyer, who brought the virus to Nigeria.

The Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Mr. Koye travelled to Port Harcourt after Mr. Sawyer’s death and that the diplomat knew he might have been infected by Mr. Sawyer.

Mr. Chukwu said Mr. Koye is presently in government custody in Lagos.

“He is part of the 18 cases that have been confirmed in Nigeria. He is with us in Lagos, not in isolation because he is not sick anymore but because of his aberrant behaviour. We needed to be sure that there is nothing further that can prove risky to society,” Mr. Chukwu said Wednesday at a press conference.

The minister said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been contacted as the matter involves a diplomat.
He said a punitive response from the government is hampered by Nigeria’s outdated quarantine laws inherited from the colonial days.

The National Assembly is working on updating the law, he added.

“We are looking at three possible areas, one we are asking the ministry of foreign affairs since he is working for a diplomatic mission, to advise us. Secondly, we also need to look at our laws. What our quarantine law provides is too old, it came from the colonial period and I do know that in the National Assembly, there are attempts currently to see how to amend that law and make it to be up-to- date,” he said.

“We are looking at what it provides even in terms of possible prosecution,” the minister added.

He said the government is also considering the Mr. Koye’s state of mind to have decided to imperil others when he knew he was a primary contact of Mr. Sawyer’s.

“We also have the psycho-social team, which is part of the management team for this Ebola virus disease. You know sometimes we assume everyone is normal so we are looking at other aspects,” he said. “Were there any problems with this man because at the time he did it Patrick Sawyer was dead so he knew the dangers and so we need to affirm a decision but he’s still with us” he said.”

In Port Harcourt, Mr. Koye received treatment secretly from the late doctor at a hotel. The hotel workers and staff of Mr. Enemuo’s hospital are amongst those isolated.

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